CLEARWATER, Fla. (WFLA) – Inch by meticulous inch, workers with the Florida Public Archaeology Network based at the University of South Florida scan the ground at the Old Curtis Fundamental School, once known as Palmetto Elementary.
They, along with Cardno, are looking for signs of the old Greenwood Cemetery from the 1940s.
Watching the process is Pastor Carlton Childs. He has relatives buried in another African American cemetery. Some of the bodies laid to rest there were moved here at one point.
“It makes you feel good in the sense that they are finally recognizing and there may be a chance that we can give due respect to our ancestors,” said Pastor Childs.
The bad, he said, is that it never should have gotten to this point in the first place. So how did it?
Years ago, some people buried at Greenwood were supposed to be moved to make room for a park and pool. The fear is that, not all were.
The property they’re searching is a large swath of land owned by both the Pinellas County School District and the City of Clearwater.
“It was a pretty big cemetery. It stretches to a great bit of city-owned property along Holt (Avenue) and the parking lot across the way part of Engman Street, a good sliver of the property the city owns, plus where the school stands,” said Pinellas Schools spokesperson Isabel Mascareñas.
The Pinellas County School District and the City of Clearwater will split the cost, which is $35,496. Whatever the cost, the NAACP says the cost to African Americans if bodies are discovered can’t be recovered.
“It’s man’s inhumanity to man. Here were a group of people that were undervalued, underestimated,” said Zebbie D. Atkinson IV, president of the Upper Clearwater Branch of the NAACP.
If graves are in fact found, then the next step is to determine what to do with the property. It could take a couple of days to do the work and then more time to determine the results.